What American Churches Need: A Missionary Mentality

I have pastored in the United States for over a decade, after having spent most of my life on the foreign mission field.  The longer I serve in the United States, see the direction of our country, and witness the health condition of churches in America, I am convinced that we as pastors and churches must embrace a missionary mentality.  In other words, we need to be intentional about doing what we teach foreign missionaries and church-planters to do in order to effectively reach a foreign culture with the Gospel.  I imagine pastors and churches across America look out into their communities and feel like they are living in a foreign culture.  The fact is, they are.

Our society today is a radically different culture from the culture most of us were raised in.  It can be frustrating and discouraging when our ministry efforts fail to connect and engage.  I believe the answer can be found by looking to an amazing group of men and women.  We call them missionaries.  What are missionaries, that are effectively engaging a radically different culture, doing?  What is their mentality?  Four principles come to mind:

 

Cultural adaptation. ¬†Missionaries are intentional about observing and studying the culture they are seeking to reach. ¬†They make efforts to learn the¬†language, the history, the values and priorities, the daily and weekly schedules, the musical styles and expressions, and the local dress. ¬†Then they make intentional and strategic decisions (within clear biblical parameters) to adapt their lifestyle and methodology. ¬†They adapt like Paul (1 Cor 9:19-23), like Hudson Taylor, like Amy Carmichael, and countless others. ¬†We encourage and applaud when missionaries adapt to reach their cultures, and yet¬†we struggle to¬†encourage and applaud pastors and churches that are seeking to adjust methods, schedules and models¬†to reach our current American culture. ¬†We are not called to reach America’s¬†past¬†culture; we are called to reach America’s¬†current¬†culture.

 

Relational discipleship.  With such limited human, financial and technological resources, foreign missionaries have to focus on the basics.  Aside from any organized worship and preaching services, they invest in mentoring relationships that help believers grow, mature and reproduce.  In short, they make disciples (Mt 18:19-20).  They do not focus on lessons and classes alone, nor on friendship and informal time alone.  They focus on both at the same time, whether individually or in very small groups, which is what it takes to meaningfully disciple other believers.  This is often missing in American churches, though there is a growing emphasis that is encouraging to see.

 

Local church training.  Again, when our resources are limited, missionaries are forced to go back to the biblical model alone, which happens to be the best all along.  There usually are no Bible colleges and seminaries, Christian bookstores and Christian radio.  If believers are going to be trained to do the work of the ministry, and even to become pastors and missionaries, the local church has to do it.  That is why so many missionaries start Bible institutes, but even those are usually heavily tied to the local church and their pastors.  Though there is a tremendous need for Bible colleges and seminaries, many churches have relinquished their biblical responsibility of equipping the saints, and they are hoping other institutions will do the work for them.

 

Multiplication mentality. ¬†I know of few missionaries who are not always looking out to¬†other towns, communities and regions that are in need of the Gospel, and of Gospel-preaching churches. ¬†Many missionaries are invested in works in separate towns at the same time! ¬†Those who are involved in effective church planting movements write about the importance of ‚Äúplanting pregnant.‚ÄĚ ¬†In other words, from the very beginning of a church plant, there is already a focus and intentionality on planting daughter churches and eventually releasing members to start other churches. ¬†That seems so foreign in America, and yet it is a way of life for most missionaries.

 

I wrestle with these challenges every single day.  I do not claim expertise or point to my church as the model to follow.  But I know that what we need as pastors and churches in America is a return to a missionary mentality.  Sure, it can be discouraging and frustrating, but there is hope for churches in America.  One generation of churches reached the world in the first century.  I believe our current generation can transform both our country and our world with the Gospel.  We have hundreds of living examples all around us.  They are called missionaries.

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Help! I Need A Furlough

There is no feeling like feeling helpless. You are in a situation that must change, but you are powerless to do anything about it. If the situation becomes prolonged, the feeling of helplessness can turn into stress, desperation, and even resentment. Something must be done.

Missionaries around the world have approached their time for furlough, after spending three or four years on their present term, but they cannot leave the field. Their families need furlough. Their emotional strength is draining. Their supporting churches need visiting, but there is no one to take the work while they are gone. The work is not ready to become indigenous. Some missionaries have left their work for a year, only to return to a work that has fallen apart. They must begin all over again. To avoid this, some missionaries have gone six or seven years (or more) without a furlough.  What can be done?  What are some options that missionaries can consider?

  • Turn the work over to a national pastor ‚Äď This is what every missionary wants to do before he leaves for furlough, but this is often not possible, because there is no one qualified or reliable.

  • Turn the work over to a fellow missionary ‚Äď This is a great option, but is only possible if there are other missionaries, and if they are available to leave their present work or carry the load of both works.

  • Request assistance from a retired pastor ‚Äď We have seen this work in fields that are English-speaking. However, with a qualified translator on hand, perhaps it could be an option in other countries as well.

  • Arrange monthly visits from another missionary or national pastor ‚Äď If the work is far enough along that a lay leader can conduct Bible studies or even preach, this can be a workable alternative. The church can carry on temporarily and still receive spiritual guidance on a regular basis from a more mature and experienced pastor.

  • Take shorter terms and shorter furloughs ‚Äď This is an option that has becoming more and more popular in recent years. For example, instead of four-year terms and one-year furloughs, some are taking two-year terms and four- to six-month furloughs. It has many advantages: the work is not left for such long time, the missionary family can see relatives on a more frequent basis, furloughs are not so draining on the family, and other missionaries can commit to helping for a shorter time.

There are no ‚Äúpat answers‚ÄĚ or perfect ways to take a furlough. Every term is different; every mission field is different. However, if one can plan ahead, there are often more options than one realizes. But that is key: plan ahead.

There are no convenient times to take a furlough. There will always be things to be done. There will often be a price that is paid in the work. However, we must remember that it is the Lord‚Äôs work and He will care for His people ‚Äď even in our absence. We must be diligent in preparing ahead for when furlough time comes, then trust the work to His care. Whatever your situation, the Lord will work it out in His time.

What furlough options have you found to be helpful? Share them in the comments below.

Three Growing Trends In World Missions

It is fascinating to observe the changes that are occurring in world missions, both in the United States and around the world. The ever-changing realities of the world we are seeking to reach with the Gospel are forcing pastors and churches to have to re-think their strategies to accomplish our God-given mission. As fundamental Baptists, our core principles remain the same when it comes to world missions: indigenous church planting. Our objective within the United States, and as we send missionaries internationally, is to plant churches that are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating (reproducing).

The challenge is: How do we do it effectively? The models and systems that proven successful in times past are not necessarily as effective today. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am intrigued to see a few growing trends in world missions, even among independent Baptists. I share these, not as an endorsement, but to challenge our thinking as pastors, missionaries, and missions-minded believers. Here are three growing trends I am seeing:

Church-based ministry training

I believe that there will always be a place for traditional academic institutions to provide quality education, both in ministry and in other vocational fields. However, the biblical reality is that the primary responsibility of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry falls upon the local church (Ephesians 4). Those of us in the pastorate have a responsibility, especially toward those who feel called to ministry, to equip them doctrinally and ministerially, to provide both education and experience. That is why we are seeing more and more church planters and foreign missionaries who are being trained ‚Äúin house‚ÄĚ through local-church Bible institutes and structured internship programs. The challenge of this approach may include a lack of an accredited, academic degree when seeking a religious visa by a foreign government. The benefits include far less time and resources spent in getting missionaries and church planters to their place of service, and more effective hands-on church experience.

Smaller, specialized sending agencies

I believe that there is still tremendous benefit for churches to work together in supporting mission agencies that reflect our values and priorities, that interview and vet potential candidates regarding their beliefs and principles, and that defend the authority of local churches. However, in recent years there has been an unmistakable trend in smaller agencies being formed to reach a targeted need. Some of these sending agencies focus on a particular people group or region of the world. Others focus on a particular strategy in world missions. These sending agencies seem to be very small and streamlined, often led by a pastor or small group of individuals, and do not seek to exclude larger mission agencies. The challenge is that these agencies (and their leaders) are not always known and trusted on a broader scale, therefore the endorsement of the church planter carries less weight than a larger, more recognized agency. The benefits are that they do not require much financial overhead or operating costs, and they can focus their attention and resources more effectively.

Emphasis on trade skills

In the United States we call it ‚Äúbi-vocational‚ÄĚ church planting. In foreign missions it is referred to as ‚Äútent-making‚ÄĚ missions. Those who are called to preach the Gospel and plant churches in a particular area are seeing the benefits of having certified training in specific trades and practical skills. Some have formal training in education, business or engineering, while others have certifications in construction, graphic design, or technology. On the home front, it allows church planters to support themselves financially, while building relationships and credibility within the community they are seeking to reach. On a global setting, it opens doors for missionaries to get into particular fields on non-religious visas, or to powerfully serve some of the serious social and cultural needs of a people group whom they are called to reach. The challenge is that the implementation of these skill sets can end up consuming valuable time that cannot be given toward structured evangelism and discipleship efforts. The benefits (ironically) are that they can create greater opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, and can create access where traditional religious training cannot.

Whether we like these trends or not, they are clearly taking place. I see them through the many missionaries and church planters that contact me for support. I see them through the testimonies of pastors and missionaries who are thinking ‚Äúout of the box‚ÄĚ and making some great strides in world missions. Our objective must be clear and unchanging: planting indigenous churches. Our methods, models, and strategies, however, require wisdom, constant evaluation, and direction from the Lord. What trends are you seeing in world missions?